IFH 428: Are Film Festivals Worth It During COVID with Chris Holland



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I’ve been getting asked almost daily if filmmakers should submit to film festivals during the pandemic since most festivals are moving online? Well, I went straight to an expert to discuss this.

On the show today I have one of the leading authorities on film festivals, Chris Holland from Film Festival Secrets.com. Chris is a 20-year veteran of film festivals, journalism, marketing, distribution and literally wrote the book on the subject, Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook For Independent Filmmakers.

If you are a listener of the show you also know that Chris and I created a FREE Podcast Series called the Film Festival Hacks Podcast. Chris and I discuss the pros and cons of submitting to film festivals in today’s world, what value film festivals have in the current marketplace, and if festivals can bounce back after the brutal hit they took from COVID.

Enjoy my conversation with Chris Holland.


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Alex Ferrari 2:19
Now guys, I've been getting a lot and I mean a lot of messages, comments posts about film festivals, and what should filmmakers do now during COVID? And is it worth submitting to film festivals? Even the big festival film festivals if there's no physical festival to go to if it's only online? Is it really worth it? What am I supposed to do? So I reached out to the film festival expert Christopher Holland over at Film Festival secrets.com and Chris is a returning champion has been on the show before and we teamed up to put together the film festival hack limited series podcast to help filmmakers understand the world of film festivals. Now in our conversation, we discussed the pros and cons of submitting to film festivals in today's crazy world. What value film festivals even have in the current marketplace in regards to distribution and getting a better deal. And if festivals can even bounce back from the brutal hit that they've taken from the COVID pandemic. If you're thinking of submitting to a film festival within the next year to two years. This is the episode for you. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Christopher Holland. I like to welcome back to the show returning champion Christopher Holland How you doing brother?

Christopher Holland 4:05
I'm hustling man.

Alex Ferrari 4:08
Every day you're hustling, hustling.

Christopher Holland 4:11
That's right.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
It is a weird and wacky world that we find ourselves in, isn't it? Sir?

Christopher Holland 4:18
It is. It isn't. It feels weird to keep saying that. But it's you know, it just gets weirder. Like, every, every week. I feel like the things we knew or thought we knew have changed and you know, gotta adjust. gotta figure out a game plan.

Alex Ferrari 4:34
I feel like we are in Back to the Future too. And we have taken a different timeline. And we're living in a different timeline.

Christopher Holland 4:41
You went for the dark one. You went for two.

Alex Ferrari 4:44
Oh, yeah. The dark diet a dark timeline. Yeah, like the one that everything just skewed until like all hell until dystopian.

Christopher Holland 4:51
It's so precious. I mean, clearly modeled on Donald Trump.

Alex Ferrari 4:56
Well, you know, we we try not to be see we try to state we we stay a political on the show, sir. But, um, but just the general craziness of that is where we're at, in. In this world, it's it's insane if I would have if I would have told you in January, hey, I'm South by Southwest SXSW is going to get canceled completely a few weeks before it launches. You wouldn't just looked at me going, you're out of your mind.

Christopher Holland 5:28
That was shocking

Alex Ferrari 5:29
To everybody.

Christopher Holland 5:30
If for people who are tuned into indie film at all, much less people who work at a film festival, it's gonna be like, Where were you when you heard the shuttle exploded? Or were we right? JFK was shot, right? It's like, you remember where were you when you heard South by Southwest was canceled. And that feeling of just, it is shocking how suddenly that happened, and how long it took them to figure out what they were going to do next.

Alex Ferrari 6:00
Well, they got caught. They got caught in the bustle. They got caught in a buzzsaw poor things.

Christopher Holland 6:03
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, they're gonna find their way back for sure. But, I mean, it's too big of a thing not to me, has changed its entire, it's like poured itself into a South by Southwest shaped mold. That's how many conference rooms and ballrooms and bars and restaurants they've built to support South by Southwest, but it was a blow for sure.

Alex Ferrari 6:28
To Austin and to and to me, and to the filmmakers that were accepted, and everybody to everybody, and they're not paying, they're not refunding anybody's money. So all that goes into next year, like it's just, it is an it's, it's an insane thing. It's like, it's insane. It's just that the whole world is is I wanted to bring you on the show against her. Because film festivals are, you know, taking an absolute beating with this. And it is, in my opinion changed the landscape for film festivals from this point on, I don't think film festivals will ever be the same again. And I think a lot of them will probably go away that what the smaller ones that were are not robust enough will probably end up going away, which I think is a tragic, a travesty, because there is a place for film festivals in the ecosystem of independent film, even with Netflix and streaming and all that kind of stuff. So from your point of view, what is the word on the street? from film festivals? What have you been hearing of like, how they're dealing? What's going on? All that kind of stuff?

Christopher Holland 7:39
Well, how they're dealing is highly dependent on when their festival was scheduled to be. ie how much time they had to figure their stuff out. What's your cursing policy on the show?

Alex Ferrari 7:53
Um, I generally like to keep it as clean as possible both an F bomb drops, and it drops.

Christopher Holland 7:58
I know I've converted over to the good place version of, you know, holy motherfucking shirt balls. That makes me happy even on my iPhone, my iPhone autocorrects. So if I type sh it, it types shirt.

Alex Ferrari 8:12
Yes, exactly.

Christopher Holland 8:13
It makes me happy. Anyway, so how to check in there. People are seeing how the sausage is made in this podcast game.

Alex Ferrari 8:21
Yes, exactly.

Christopher Holland 8:23
So what are we talking about?

Alex Ferrari 8:26
Film Festivals on the streets, Yes.

Christopher Holland 8:28
So yeah, how long they had to figure out their stuff. Like for me personally, I work at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, we closed our doors for our annual 2020 Festival on like, basically, March 1. And then two weeks later, the world exploded. We had no idea that we were probably, you know, a transmission vector. We may or may not have been depending on any belief, but still, you know, we got in right at the wire. So we've had, we have a year to figure out what our next festival looks like. And so for us, you know, we've done all our fundraising, all that kind of stuff, we've got that runway, things don't look so bad. But we're still sort of like figuring it out. And then there's what do we do in the meantime. And a lot of festivals who had year round programming in person has switched over to digital, not only they're holding screenings, digitally, but they're also doing more Skype q&a, where they might not have done any q&a, like they can't afford for one screening to fly filmmaker. And so they're doing more virtual stuff. They're they're exploring what the options are. They're copying ideas from other industries and from other events like mad and that's great, right? Everybody's trying to figure out how this works. And there's been this panoply of streaming services that sort of, you know, have swelled up and either figured out how to do virtual events real darn fast or already had it in the works. So they were ready. I went to the art house convergence, which is a gathering of art house theaters, other exhibitors, distributors and from festivals in Utah, about a week before Sundance, and I had a couple of virtual people come up to me and go, Hey, you know, like, if you ever want to run a virtual Film Festival, all of us being completely oblivious of COVID at that point, right. And I blew them off, mostly because it was like, I'd done my thing with virtual festivals in the past, it's great if you don't have access to the theater, for whatever reason, but you know, people like to go to events. So it wasn't taking it all that seriously. And you know, a month later, it's like, oh, crap, now I got to go back to all these people and say about that. So some, you know, these companies have done really, really well and are growing like mad. Because film festivals are now suddenly interested in virtual events, I think you're going to see most festivals, and this is, you know, come true, for the most part for those festivals that have happened or announced plans, since this all started. Most of them are going to go like at least half digital, if not entirely digital. A lot of them are going to try and figure out how to do something in person, you know, they're going to try driving movies, which have suddenly become a thing again, they're going to try especially distance stuff. There's a theater to in town here in Atlanta, that is actually letting people go to the movies. But since that seems like a good idea. Well, the problem is, they made those plans and made those decisions based on information from a month ago, when we thought that COVID was spread by surfaces, and by, you know, specks of the liquid that came out of your mouth, flew a few feet and then fell to the ground. And that's how COVID works. So we understand now that it's actually completely airborne, and can float in the air. And the more people infected people you put in a box, you know, with no ventilation or little ventilation, the more that viral load is going to build up in the air around you right to the point where anybody who's in that box is going to get infected.

Alex Ferrari 12:17
And you could just go back and look at that scene from outbreak when they're actually in a movie theater. And it's pretty much that.

Christopher Holland 12:24
Yep, exactly. So I'm not an expert on the virus.

Alex Ferrari 12:29

Christopher Holland 12:29
I same crap that everybody else does. But it's becoming very clear that the rules from a month ago, two months ago, are not the real rules. And so all of these restaurants that are claiming, you know, they wipe all the surfaces down and everything you know, but they're still inviting you to come in and be in an enclosed space with poor ventilation. You know, that's a really, really bad idea. And so movies are the same way. So when I see places like Sundance places like Toronto, whoever, who were like, we're gonna do some socially distance things like Well, okay, but that's based on information from a month ago. Are you really gonna do this still do that now? Cuz it seems like a really bad idea now.

Alex Ferrari 13:16
Yeah, exactly. In I mean, look, film festivals in general have been a cultural event for since since its inception. So it is about gathering people together to celebrate film, celebrate independent film, or, you know, whatever. But generally, it's about celebration and of independent film, in a in some sort of event of physical event. Is Cannes Film Festival survive without a theatrical component. I know the big boys will figure our way out. But I'm talking about that little festival down the street. I always say Moose Jaw, the Moose Jaw International Film Festival, which I hope doesn't exist. Or as in my movie, the Uptown downtown Film Festival. So, you know, so the Uptown downtown festival Film Festival that's been around for maybe four years. And you know, they rent out the local pub and, and they have, you know, maybe 40 or 50 people show up and they hand out a couple of certificates. And there's 1000s of those kinds of festivals. Oh,

Christopher Holland 14:18
Here's where I talk in sweeping generalities.

Alex Ferrari 14:20

Christopher Holland 14:22
The uptown downtown Film Festival. Those guys probably weren't making any money anyway.

Alex Ferrari 14:27

Christopher Holland 14:28
They were, you know, probably staffed by volunteers who just love putting on a film festival.

Alex Ferrari 14:34

Christopher Holland 14:34
And if there was any money changing hands, it was to the venues that they had to pay or, you know, whatever travel they were paying for, or, you know, just operational stuff, you know, the people who are running that Film Festival, we're not making the money. And so those people are going to be there, they have a choice. They can cancel. They can go online, they can try to hold something in person. But you know, monetarily, that's not going to work out because most places have social distancing rules. And if you can't sell half of your house, then the rental fee is just going to put you under water, not to mention the distributors fee if you have to pay that. So that's the downside. The upside is it didn't cost them much to spin up in the first place. And they can probably with a Kickstarter campaign, or you know, some of their savings or credit card or whatever, spin back up again, film festivals are inherently volatile. When I look at a film festival for legitimacy, I generally don't look at anything younger than about six years. Because that's about the point that a festival matures and figures out whether it really wants to do what it's doing or not, and how to make it viable. Alright, so there's always been this churn of film festivals, little film festivals coming going all the time. COVID-19 may have accelerated that process, maybe a lot more, I'll go under. But you know, there's, there's always festivals popping up. As somebody gets the bright idea, well, we need a good film festival in this town, and the one that used to be here is gone, or there's never been one. And those will pop up. As you said, the big boys, I don't know if they're going to be fine. But

Alex Ferrari 16:26
They'll survive. they'll survive in one way, shape, or form. But

Christopher Holland 16:28
The one that seems to be in the most trouble, and I say this only based on the press is Toronto, because they've got this huge honking theater, the lightbox. Yeah, that was already costing them a ton of money to operate. If you look at their ticket pricing, especially for like their celebrity events, they were charging like 40,50 bucks a pop, because this thing costs a lot to maintain. And now, you know, they got no revenue whatsoever, you know, mostly speaking, and the lightbox has been shut since March or April, they've laid off a bunch of people, you know that it's tough to come back from that in the same way that you did before. Fortunately, it's not like this goes on forever and ever. There will be a vaccine someday, you know, My bet is on late 2021. But again, I'm not an expert, I'm sort of like intuiting reading between the lines. But you know, there's every possibility that they'll be back in business with a, you know, if not a fully fleshed out big as it ever was Film Festival, at least an event that sort of starts getting them back on their feet. I imagine there'll be a certain amount of state support. Right, our canonizations I mean, sure, Toronto has more film festivals, you know, in its city than I think any other city in the world. Partially, that's because of Toronto, because Toronto is such a big, you know, the the Toronto Film Festival is such a big deal. And so more of a good thing is a good thing. But also because, you know, Toronto, the city and the state and the state, but the province, province, thank you and the nation have put state funding behind its organization organizations. So I think that that'll be helpful. and to a lesser extent, the United States has done the same thing. Most of them festivals that have paid employees are eligible for you know, some of that support that PvP support. But it's, you know, it's not a ton of money, it'll help them get by, maybe we'll see. So that leaves now you got the big boys who probably have enough cash crunch or can raise enough money or the capital campaign to keep motoring forward, that their brand equity is going to keep them alive. It's the people in the middle. Right? Right, who are going to have the hardest time because maybe they did get just get to the point where they had, you know, they were able to start paying people and full time employee is more than just their salary, it's their the taxes you pay on their salary, it's their health insurance, all that other kind of overhead. And, you know, I can see some of these medium sized festivals really getting underwater in a hurry. And so they'll have to lay people off. And if you lay people off, you know, there goes some of the heart and soul of your festival and it's hard to get those people back. And, you know, it changes the character of your festival and so is it that made me start at the beginning of the end for some festivals, no medium to large festivals do go under, you know, especially as their founders move on or whatever. And this could accelerate that. But it's not. I haven't seen anyone who's other than telluride. There's a whole other beast. basically say, I'm not going to even try to do a virtual festival. You know, we're just going to cancel this year and we'll come back or cancel and never Come back. Now they're all trying to get on board with virtual screenings. And you know, that'll be good for some people and not good for others

Alex Ferrari 16:55
Now but I mean, for filmmakers, like, does it even make sense to submit to festivals this year?

Christopher Holland 20:17
So yeah, if anybody is really getting screwed in this whole thing, it's filmmakers shocking. us, right? Because they don't know what the truth is. They don't know what the truth is, is that festivals don't know what the truth is. exhibitors don't know what the truth is distributors don't know what the truth is. Everybody's just sort of, you know, winging it, and pretending that, you know, the old rules still apply. While the old rules don't still apply, and there's this, you know, period of time, where Ain't nobody going to the movies, even after a vaccine, whatever, like people's habits will change. And they'll be like, you know, what I like being in my lazy boy with the, you know, 80 inch TV that I bought during the pandemic, because I wasn't spending it on going out. Right. You know? And, you know, maybe I don't need to do that. And, you know, we saw the collapse of windows, I think it was universal. And AMC, I could be wrong about that.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Yeah, yeah. Universal on AMC, they call out like,

Christopher Holland 21:19
a film only has to be in theaters for like nine weeks tops before they can put it out on video?

Alex Ferrari 21:24
And they'll, and they'll change it and it'll get in that window is gonna shrink even more because because movie theaters have no negotiating power. They don't did they at this point, they have no negotiating power. And I promise you the moment that a big studio is forced to go to a p VOD platform on on one of these films that they're just sitting on the shelf, because there's certain there's certain studios are going to be able to hold on to these for a year. Like I know, my buddy worked on Top Gun. They just pushed that to next summer. And Marvel's slate is being pushed and but studio like Sony. They need James Bond. Yeah. And they will release already started to happen. Like I mean, what was the troll? Seriously? Right? No, Scooby Scoob kind of went that way. But then we've only seen trolls to Scooby, the Scooby, the new Scooby movie. I want to see a temple I want to see a real studio movie. And that's going to be the litmus test. Because if I promise you right now, if they released bond, the new bond, no time to die right now. And go guides, it's going to be a premium. It's going to be 20 bucks. This weekend. I think you'll make a killing? I think it will, I think you'll do very well in this environment. Now. With that said, would it do better in a theatrical environment? Yes, I think it would. And there's still be money for t VOD. But that could be a year, maybe even longer, like you said, maybe end of 2021 before we even start remotely, going back to something that resembles what we had before. And even then we haven't even spoken about the economy, which is I still say, well, we still have we have not seen the bottom yet. It's we haven't unfortunately seen the bottom yet of that. So we're not even taking place into all of that. And then of course, the elections, and of course, all the other turmoil around the world that's happening. So all of these pressures are being put on it. I mean, I mean, how long can you keep $200 million movie sitting on a shelf as a company like if you paid $200 million for a product, you kind of got to unless you've got cash reserves, which Disney Warner's universal, they can hold. But some of the smaller like Lionsgate or Paramount, or even Sony. They need to release stuff theatrically. So they might just have to bite the bullet and go You know what? Let's just let's go to P VOD. And we'll see. theaters I think aren't going to have much anyway, Amazon's gonna buy AMC anyway. I mean, that's just someone's buy. I called me an RB from stasia. To add him on the show a little while ago. I called Amazon on that show. I'm like, and then what's happening Amazon's already circling and what happened to the Egyptian Netflix bought the Egyptian on on Hollywood Boulevard. It's happening somewhat some big conglomerates going to buy out AMC cinemark arclight did because they're just going to go under they can't not take no money coming.

Christopher Holland 24:38
Look, there's going to be a fire sale on a lot of this stuff. Yeah, AMC owns a lot of real estate for the developers who brought AMC own a lot of real estate. And you know that there used to be back in the 90s there was this big push to put theatres out on the booty outskirts of town. Yep. With you know, a big ass parking lot and like a steak can shake and the chilies and whatever like sure. The the movie theater wasn't the thing making money, the movie theater was the thing bringing the money to all the other businesses. So there's a lot of those still around. And, you know, don't forget the malls and have that real estate for the malls. You know, if I had to, like lay some money down, I would say there's going to be fewer movie theaters,

Alex Ferrari 25:23
Fewer screens, fear screens in the country.

Christopher Holland 25:25
Right. And this will, you know, as with so many things, this will accelerate that. But to bring it back to what does this mean for filmmakers? filmmakers don't know whether they should be looking at film festivals and saying I should submit because this is, you know, my films ready and I want to get it out there. Or, you know, is this going to invalidate my films premiere in the eyes of a distributor? Who sees that as lost revenue? Two months ago, in May, three months ago, whatever it is, Brian Newman, who runs a consulting company called sub genre, where he helps brands make sort of documentary and indie films and get them out there.

Alex Ferrari 26:15
Oh, yeah, I think there's nothing I haven't heard. Yeah,

Christopher Holland 26:17
Brian spends a great guy. And he made this big argument that you should not be submitting to film festivals. And at the time, I completely agreed with him, because, you know, distributors had not gotten on board with the idea that you know, that having your film premiere online, was a good thing at all. In just the paltry, you know, six, eight weeks since then, that thinking has evolved. And you're hearing more and more distributors say things like, well, so long as it's, you know, so long as you only sell 1000 views, right, so long as you limit the number of people who can see it, so long as you only make it available for three days, so long as you can geo block it so that only people in the city of New York can watch it, then, you know, will view that as just a regular old festival screening, and that's fine. So the rules are changing. My argument for a filmmaker who is maybe new to the game or doesn't have a whole lot of money sunk into, you know, we need to go find a distribution deal for this right now. My advice for them is, hold on, because the one thing that you know, a virtual festival can almost never offer you unless it's like one of the really big ones, and I'll talk about that in a second is networking opportunities. Correct. hotbox did a really good job to hotdocs, his documentary festival in Toronto, that is sort of like the documentary answer to TIFF, it's in the spring yada, yada. But they do a lot of you know, sales, they do a lot of like cooking distributors up with the filmmakers. And they did all of that online this year. And apparently did really well as just as many film sold just as many meetings taken from the reading I've been doing. And you know, it was a rousing success, but they had already been going down that road. Because fewer distributors came to hotbox. Because it was, you know, in the spring with up with a bunch of other stuff. Every other film festival that you might go to, especially the medium and small ones, they can't afford to make those kinds of connections, or don't think to make those kinds of connections between filmmakers, and each other between filmmakers and distributors between filmmakers, and executives or whatever. They're like, we put a film online, maybe we have a q&a on Skype. And that's what we can do. And that eliminates all of that Halo activity, all that stuff that takes place around where the filmmakers meet each other and decide to go to the bar next door and really get to know each other and you know, that form, you know, some sort of partnership or Alliance, all that kind of good stuff that makes film festivals worth submitting to in the first place.

Alex Ferrari 29:11
Now, but can can still can can. filmmakers get the same kind of exposure online as they got from Luxor? Let's say you got into South by and you premiered on that Amazon p VOD thing that they did. Did that tell did they get more attention? Did they not? What do you feeling?

Christopher Holland 29:33
What I noticed and what I have seen in some of the press since is that a lot of the features that were selected and asked narrative features and dock features chose not to participate.

Alex Ferrari 29:46
Right I yeah, I know that from inside.

Christopher Holland 29:50
So whether that was because of the financial terms or whether that was because they you know, it was that was early days. That was what

Alex Ferrari 29:58
I was wild, wild west man. Yeah, it was wild, wild west at that point. And I know I know what it was, it was like, You got paid like, I don't know, like, like 500 bucks or something like that. It was something really insulting. Yeah. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Christopher Holland 30:23
But it's a whole different animal. Right? It's an entirely different thing, business model, our distributors, you know, sitting down in their living rooms and going through the slate. And you know, like, there's a reason that distributors like going to film festivals. It's not just about getting access to the films, they can do that on their own, they pick up the phone, they call the filmmaker, they say, Hey, I can't make this up by Southwest. Kevin, you can't give me a screening link. And the filmmakers will course, right, they can see the movies. It's about the social interactions. It's about the deal making. It's about seeing what the audience thought of the film when they saw it. And that sort of atmosphere of collegial ism, and, you know, getting to know the new kids and no talent spotting. And very little of that takes place online. Unless your festival can make a really concerted effort to to make those connections. Are there things that are better about virtual film festivals? Yeah, I mean, a distributor can only afford to send so many people to South by Southwest. But if everything's happening online, they can put three four people on it and take that many more meetings. So as a filmmaker, your decision should be based on factors like how likely is my film, quote, unquote, expired? Right? If this is a film about the upcoming election, you need to get it out there. All right, it's not going to be any good to anybody after that. If yours is a coming of age comedy that will play out pretty much the same in 2022, as it will in 2021, then my advice is Wait, you know, unless there's extenuating circumstances, but you know, everything's highly personal. There are going to be a lot of films that get out there on the festival circuit, my feeling is that a lot of them will have already have achieved distribution, before they hit the festival circuit. And that playing festivals means that they're kind of a niche film that maybe needs some festival play to generate word of mouth. So maybe an LGBT film or an African American film that, you know, they need a way to reach audiences. But you know, it's gonna be really difficult for indies with no distribution to take that chance. And then, you know, the worry is that a distributor? Let him go, Oh, yeah. Well, you played for online film festivals. And, you know, now the online market for that is played out. What are the extenuating circumstances? It's all it's all on economy, the more scarce films become finished produced films, right? Because that, you know, there's not a lot of production going on right now. The more of those, the more need for that content there is, the more valuable, the more willing, those distributors are going to be to overlook the fact that you played to 4000 online viewers,

Alex Ferrari 33:35

Christopher Holland 33:36
It's a calculus for sure.

Alex Ferrari 33:37
And but again, nobody knows anything at this point. Like, nobody knows when it's

Christopher Holland 33:44
At this very moment, what we know is that it's unlikely that anybody's going to be doing any production or holding any festivals of any kind. Write something that already has distribution. And we're gonna see the same slate of films across a bunch of festivals for the next six to 12 months.

Alex Ferrari 34:08
Right. And we'll have to

Christopher Holland 34:11
Rehearse and say, I need to get my film out there. Now. I don't care. Right, right. And that happens. People don't make no logical decisions all the time.

Alex Ferrari 34:19
No, exactly. It's like, imagine if you've been working a year and a half on a movie and it's already in now this happens, dude. Like, I don't want to wait another year, year and a half, but and my investors want their money back or something like that work? Well, there's just you know, you could be you could just be, you know, instinctual and just release it now and see what happens. Or you could be more strategic and wait and see what happens. Now, I have to ask you, though, you know, to talk about the elephant in the room Sundance, is it going to happen in 2021, in your opinion?

Christopher Holland 34:49
Well, they've already announced a plan. Do you see this?

Alex Ferrari 34:53
No, I I've heard I didn't hear the details. So if you could, please tell me okay.

Christopher Holland 34:57
So the plan is and this plan is now a couple of Sold before the real, you know, even anecdotal studies of the airborne qualities of this virus came out is to hold a limited number of in theater screenings at 20 different cities around the country around the US. I don't think they announced any international but I could be wrong about that. In addition to a slate of films at Utah, the slate of films, there'll be like a core, as I understand it, and then programmers in other cities will help curate for local audiences. And they'll all be socially distancing, whatever, and there will be an online component to it as well.

Alex Ferrari 35:42
I mean, it's just by discipline. I mean, that's all with a lot of assumptions.

Christopher Holland 35:48
Right? And that's not till after the inauguration in January, they push their dates back. And that's not for months and months, or, you know, it's what, four months at this point? Five if you count the full January. So they got lots of time to change their mind. And they probably Yeah, me. Yeah. Yeah. But their plan based on all that old information is, well, we can do this socially distanced, and we're going to try if anybody can try to do it, we're going to try. So they're in talks with theatres, and whoever else around the world, and they're going to try and make it happen. Do I think it's going to happen? I'd put it at about 6040 against at this point. Just Just because we know things now we didn't know before. And it seems like a really, really bad idea to put no matter. I mean, I just don't understand how the economics of it work.

Alex Ferrari 36:43
If you would, if you're going to tell me that they're going to do drive ins, then maybe, yeah, maybe drive ins like if they want to do 20 cities driving pop ups that they'll do in like a Walmart, you know, parking lot or or mall parking lot, or something like that. That might make sense to me. And if some if someone could do it, Sundance can because out of everybody in the US, Sundance has the biggest cache, and arguably one of the biggest cache in the world as far as film festivals are concerned. So they might be able to draw an audience.

Christopher Holland 37:16
Drive ins are an interesting problem. Because they accomplish the social separation, but they have other problems, including line of sight, including carbon monoxide, you know, including weather, which is where carbon monoxide becomes a problem.

Alex Ferrari 37:36
Oh, yeah. And if it's gonna be in the wintertime, it's going to be in the winter, depending on the year in those cars are gonna have to be running.

Christopher Holland 37:42
Uh huh. Well, they don't have to be. There's a there's a drive in in Michigan, that actually has electric heaters that are, you know, powered by extension cords. So they bring an extension cord in this thing, and they put the heater down on the floorboards. And that's how they do it in the winter.

Alex Ferrari 38:02
It's 1952.

Christopher Holland 38:04
Thanks, thanks. There's a whole bunch of logistical challenges. And the only thing that Sundance would have going for it in January, is that they can probably get two, maybe three screenings a night, since sundown, is one seven o'clock or whatever, right? You know, whereas in the summer and Sunday, it's not till 8:30 , 9 o'clock, you're in trouble. So yeah, drivings are an interesting problem. You've got bathrooms to consider, like, I know, I now know how much it costs to rent of the Lux Porta Potty setup for the city of Atlanta. Because we're doing the research on you know, how do we make drivings a thing? So yeah, it's all very interesting.

Alex Ferrari 38:48
So do you see, I mean, after this passes, and hopefully will pass in the next few years, and some and we will revamp back up to where we were, I'm hoping or is this you know, or COVID could be with us for many, many years to come in one way shape or form like the flu or a whatever, after the vaccines and all that kind of stuff, whatever the future might lie. Do you believe that film festivals will now either have to, or will now always have an online component, even if they have a physical event?

Christopher Holland 39:26
What I think is going to happen. And this is based on my many, many decades of down kidding. What I think is going to happen is that this will open festivals, eyes to the power of reaching out to your audience digitally in a way that they have just not tried to do before. Right? They're gonna figure out hey, we can produce video, we can produce remote, interviews, Q and A's and you know, even in a big in person theater setting, we can make it work and we can make it valuable. So I think that part's gonna stick I don't know from a distribution and online revenue kind of thing, like, even if even if movie theaters were to go away tomorrow, right, and the only people showing in movie theaters or film festivals, the distribution is still there. And they're still going to view any sort of online screening sort of widely available as cutting into their possible sales. So I don't see, like, I don't see film festivals going entirely virtual in a big way, or even like majority virtual, it's going to be an add on, right? The value is still in the in person, experience, the value is in seeing your friends at the theater, and that kind of reactions that you have in the parking lot in the filmmaker you got to meet and all of that that's not going away. And one of the reasons we know it's not going away is because, you know, hardly anybody pays for music anymore. Right? Like, when's the last time you bought an album? Right digital distribution killed, you know, a lot of the revenue for recordings for musicians, but now, you know, they make their living, schlepping around the country or

Alex Ferrari 41:13
Not now, but now but yes, in theory,

Christopher Holland 41:17
Right. Okay, now, now they're online, right. And some of them are charging, you know, money, or doing whatever, you know, to, they're on Patreon. And they do a nightly concert or whatever. They're finding ways to interact with their audience, and get value out of that. Winter festivals will continue and perhaps have to up the ante in terms of interaction and making that in person experience valuable. But I mean, I think everybody's anxious to get back to, you know, butts in seats in the dark watching a movie together.

Alex Ferrari 41:47
Now, wouldn't it make sense, though, for for film festivals, which have on an educational aspect to them with panels and talks and things like that, to offer those digitally? Where they you could charge? Like, if you had Mark duplass doing that amazing South by Southwest? Talk, you know, about filmmaking? Couldn't you charge 15 bucks ahead for 25 bucks for a pass for the day or whatever it is, to see that as a revenue generator and open that open that stuff up to to a worldwide audience that might not be able to come to the festival?

Christopher Holland 42:27
Possibly. A lot of them do that already. A lot of the bigger ones anyway, right? They're taking their talks that were recorded, and they parcel them out over the course of the year on YouTube or whatever. Some of them generating revenue from ads, some of them, but I'm talking about live like doing a lie. Well, I'm getting there. Some of them is just as a tentpole to draw more attention. So they've they're already selling their garbage, so to speak, the quest the year the question you're asking is, what can they grab some of those people? And my answer to that is, number one. There's a bunch of logistics issues there. Right. And it's a lot harder to sell a $600 pass for something that you get sitting on your button, you're in living room?

Alex Ferrari 43:16
Oh, no, you're not going to be listed. It's a completely different business model. There's no question you can charge that. But let's say if you charge 50 bucks for the day, per day, and you get, you know, 20 panels that you have access to on the day that shut down the next day, like you won't have access to them again. So for that window, and then at the end, if you want to get access to all of the interviews, all of the panels, all the things, you sell a package for like two 300 bucks, and you have it for life. I mean, I'm just thinking outside the box here,

Christopher Holland 43:46
I think the fear would be that they would be cannibalizing their own sales. Because you know, companies spend a lot of money outside of the price of the badge, send somebody to South by Southwest, hotels are nearly impossible to get flights are impossible to get it's a lot of money to get somebody physical Adam based but out to, you know, Austin, Texas for that. But they know that a, the person that is going is really excited about it. And it's going to like really get a lot out of it. And so that's why they do that. But if you said the same thing, well, you can get all the informational content at the same time for you know, a fraction of the cost, then there's a lot of companies that are going to do that. So I think there's there's a fear based element there. There's a political element of if we do that, and our attendance starts to go down. How does that look for us and for our city that now depends on us to bring in a bunch of revenue, yada, yada, yada. I mean, there's a lot of economic and emotional reasons not to do that. But I think you're right that this will open their eyes to the possibility of charging for that. content and I think filmmakers should you know, there was a time when just being on the panel was enough, you're getting the exposure and you're being highlighted. Yeah, but they're selling tickets based on your ass too. So maybe ask for a little bit of that and ask for a free hotel room, whatever.

Alex Ferrari 45:15
Yeah, that's, that's a whole other. That's another question I've always had a problem with film festivals are is they're making a ton of money off of our films. And they're, well, they're not arguably I know, they're not they're not,

Christopher Holland 45:27
they're not making a ton of money off of the film, certainly not off of ticket sales.

Alex Ferrari 45:31
So they're making it off the sponsors,

Christopher Holland 45:34
Right of film festivals job is to get its audience to show up in happy enthusiastic alcoholic droves. Right? That is their job.

Alex Ferrari 45:46
That's the most honest definition of a film ever.

Christopher Holland 45:50
That's what we do. Yeah. We do this for two reasons. Number one, sponsors who pay way more than an audience member, her, you know, per head that shows up there, you know, like to be part of something successful. Right? They like this is why tickets for festivals are still down around 1520 bucks per show, when it costs way more than that, right? I think we did the calculations at the Atlanta Film Festival one time and throwing in like sponsorship and volunteer labor. You know, if we'd had to pay all those people, if we didn't have the sponsorship money, in order to break even we would have had to charge? I think it was like, around $100 a ticket to break even. Wow. So you know, and most festivals, you know, are only breaking even, you know, they're just barely surviving. There are those lucky few who are you know, and 99% of them are nonprofits. But even the big ones like South by Southwest, it ain't the film festival that's making, you know, the big money there. It's the tech conference,

Alex Ferrari 47:03
and they use a conference. And it's

Christopher Holland 47:05
Yeah, and you know, but it's the movies and the celebrities and the whatnot, that help convince the tech workers that they want to come out for that, right. And that that's why they request a ticket to South by Southwest instead of some other more boring conference. Right? Because they know it's going to be a good time. So when you when you look at some big film festivals, and you go, oh, they're making a lot of money, it's usually something else going on there. And you know, the other one, I mentioned the alcohol that is partially about sponsors, but also about tax revenue. Bars pay a lot in tax revenue. And if you got people coming to party in your town, that makes the city really happy. And then they give you grant money to keep doing what you're doing.

Alex Ferrari 47:48
Kind of like the the San Diego Comic Con when it takes over San Diego. I mean, it's it's the South by Southwest of its of its town. And I mean, we're talking about 150,000 people shop for five days. You got it. And and this year, I was on a virtual panel for Santa for the for the Comic Con and I did a virtual panel because I would have loved to go. But yeah, yeah, that's not happening. Yep. I mean, the one thing I also I keep telling people is like the hangover effect of COVID, the COVID hangover effect, which is, even if tomorrow Fauci comes on and says, Hey, we have a vaccine, it's worked. It's 100%. You take it, you'll never get this thing. We've defeated. If that in a magical world would happen tomorrow. I still say take six months, a year, possibly longer before most of the population feels comfortable being around other people again, in a way we were in January of 2019. That's 2020. Would you agree?

Christopher Holland 49:01
See, I see. And maybe this is just my perspective, from deep red George, although not so much deep red anymore, but I see a lot of people still out and about even without the vaccine. No, no, we're just I said most I said most, I don't think it's even most. I think if it were most, you know, we wouldn't, and this is getting political and scientific and whatever. And I'm basing this just on the fact that, you know, I go out and pick up my groceries curbside, or whatever, in the limited amount of time that I'm outdoors. You know, my family took a completely isolated road trip or we just drove for five hours just because we could not stand being in the house. Yes, longer. Yes. And you know, we're driving through both the city of Atlanta and the outskirts and out into rural Georgia and I see people out and about hanging in outdoor venues, drinking eaten and just having a grand old time, I'm not convinced that it's most people who are staying indoors and isolating and that it's probably different in California. Sure, you've got some pretty draconian, you know, but is it most people, again, made maybe regional as well.

Alex Ferrari 50:18
So it's all, it's all relative,

Christopher Holland 50:20
I think there are going to be two things, there's going to be those people who didn't give a crap in the first place. And there are going to be those who have been going stir crazy. And once they get that shot, they're out there, it's going to come roaring back for them. Will there be people in the meantime who have discovered that they can live a perfectly content life working at home and not going out and not eating out and just doing their thing? And their lifestyle is better that way? Sure. But my my worry about the hangover is less about personal behavior, and whether we feel like being together or not, and more about the availability of the vaccine, and the willingness of people to take it. Yeah. Well, who don't? Anyway,

Alex Ferrari 51:04
That a whole other conversation, a whole other conversation got, I got you. Anyway, the reason I said that the hangover is because, you know, I personally don't know when I'll be able to sit down in a movie theater with a group of people again, like it's gonna be a while before I feel comfortable doing that. And I love common sense, Alex. Just, you know, so I feel that there is a there's definitely we let's say it's 30% of the population, that's a substantial amount of revenue, that the industry will lose. So there's going to be a hangover effect. Regardless, whatever that percentage is, it's still going to be a bigger a bigger, it's going to be a chunk of what normal what normally was in January of 2020. And again, we're not factoring in the economy. With spending habits change. Alright, no question. People like maybe I don't have to go out so much. Yeah.

Christopher Holland 51:57
Well, a lot of the people who lost their income, probably were not the people who were spending tons of money on entertainment in the first place. Right. So entertainments a luxury. And, you know, it's not one of those things that is as susceptible to an economic downturn, because the people who had the cushion to afford that stuff in the first place, probably still have enough of a cushion to do some spending there. And their spending habits change the past spending habits of the truly wealthy who don't worry about this stuff. There's dumping more money into at home entertainment. They're spending more money on video games, they're subscribing to more streaming services, right? If anything, this is just going to bolster the position of streaming services. Because before it was like, so fractured, and you didn't want to spend $100 $200 a month on all these different streaming services. Now, it seems like a bargain.

Alex Ferrari 52:53
Right? Yeah. Because you're not going out as much. So it makes sense. Well, I mean, Chris, the whole world's coming. The whole world's burning. Oh, it's all go into shirt. It's all gone. It's all going to shirt in a handbasket, sir. Right. All right, I'm going to ask you to I'm going to ask you a couple rapid fire questions in regards to film festivals. And I want to hear what you think. Do you submit it to a film festival right now?

Christopher Holland 53:15
Well, the very long winded answer that I gave earlier is it depends. And if you want to shoot me an email at Chris at Film Festival secrets calm and tell me your situation. And I'll give you a rapid fire answer of my gut based on having not seen your film at all, and you haven't described it to me. You're welcome to do that. I don't promise I'll get back to you soon. Get back to you.

Alex Ferrari 53:37
Alright, and my next question was? If If not now, when? So when in what in what the environment that makes sense to start submitting back to film festivals if you're waiting.

Christopher Holland 53:50
I think when film festivals announced that they're holding their next events 100% in person or you know, as close to it as they will ever get again, right? Like if they're like, we're showing 100 films, and each of them twice. And you know, it's all going to be in theaters. And oh, by the way, we're doing this virtual thing over here. That to me is fully back until we see that from film festivals, because you know, they don't want to get sued. No, they don't want to come or have a bad reputation of being a spread vector. Then that's, you know, they're not going to hold an in person event. As an aside. There's a lot of Film Festival and event organizers, who are now armchair biologists, these people have more about, you know how to keep themselves out of trouble with their insurance companies and their lawyers and whatever else might be coming. Medical experts think they ever thought what's going to happen.

Alex Ferrari 54:47
And if you are accepted into an online festival or a festival that has an online component now, what can you do to make the most out of it as a filmmaker,

Christopher Holland 54:56
Participate in any virtual events that they have to offer? You know, make yourself available for all of that. Make sure that you read the fine print on exactly who's going to be able to see your film and when and where and how and all that you do not want to get run afoul of, you know, oh, well, it turned out it was available worldwide. And that's going to screw her distribution chances. And then, you know, ask them what opportunities they have for you to connect with other filmmakers and with the industry. Even before all this happened. One of my favorite things to do for film festivals that I worked with was just start a private Facebook group, for all the filmmakers who were accepted that year, and just let them get to know each other, and they would partner up on hotel rooms, they would, you know, compare the schedules and see like what films they wanted to see, you know, it was just a good way to build connections even before you put boots on the ground at the festival. So for online, that may be the only interaction you have with another filmmaker. And those are the connections that are really worth making at film festivals.

Alex Ferrari 56:01
And where can people find you a window? First of all, don't you have an updated book version? Sir, of your other best selling book from festival secrets?

Christopher Holland 56:08
Oh, man, you're such a good show. I'm going to keep you. Yes. So right before the pandemic started, I released the second edition of Film Festival secrets, a handbook for independent filmmakers. The book is very much changed since it was first published in 2008. It does not mention my space anymore. It no longer

Alex Ferrari 56:33
What are you talking about? That's the secret. That's the secret decision replacing like filmmakers social, absolutely man. And that's where everyone's shy. Don't tell anybody that. And if we go there, if you go there, and we're not there, just wait.

Christopher Holland 56:44
Right? Exactly. Yeah, so it's updated with all the new stuff that it does not mention DVDs as a submission format or that. And by popular demand, I have added a directory of 1400 notable film festivals around the world that I have personally put my eyes on our website or know them by reputation or have talked to their directors or whatever that I think are legit. So if you're one of those filmmakers who's worried that they're going to get scammed, the person's not going to watch their film, and you know, it's not worth it. This list basically tells you Yeah, these festivals are legit. I make no promises beyond that. I don't call them the best. I don't call them the coolest. I don't call them the ultimate. They're just notable, you know, good deal from festivals. And where can people get the book? Yeah. Well, secrets calm or on Amazon. And it'll be it's in paperback. It's an E book. It isn't paperback. It's a bit more expensive in paperback, because those are atoms that have to be physically shipped somewhere. But yeah, I wanted to make it as accessible and affordable as possible. And still prove to my wife that, you know, it was working spending all that time doing what I was doing. But yeah, please, I mean, take take a look. Because I feel like there's I mean, the genesis of the book was I was working at the Austin Film Festival, I was listening to the programmers answer phone calls from filmmakers. And they kept answering the same questions over and over again. And so I thought somebody ought to like write all this stuff down and put it in a book. And it turned out a few years later, that person was me. And so I think it's, you know, I hope it's really helpful to people who are coming on the circuit.

Alex Ferrari 58:29
And where and where can people find you?

Christopher Holland 58:32
I am primarily at filmfestivalsecretscom. I'm on Twitter at Film Fest secrets. I'm not there a ton. Facebook is not really my thing. There is an Instagram, but that's not really my thing either.

Alex Ferrari 58:46
Do you have a thing? Sir? Do you have a thing?

Christopher Holland 58:48
Do I have a thing? Well, I'll tell you about a thing I've been working on is a new podcast. For the first film festival. I work for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. It's called AJ FF in conversation and it is about all things film with a Jewish spin on it. So if you're Jewish or just curious about Jewish film festivals and Jewish film, I'm, you know, I'm producing it that to other staff members are hosting it, but I'm pretty proud of what we've done. It's one of those things that I, you know, I don't think we would have done without the pandemic coming along. Its way of connecting to our audiences. I think it's things something that filmmakers should consider, in light of the fact that they may not get a theatrical run or festival run in the utricle way. It's like what other digital content can you put out there to connect with your audience? Cuz all the cool kids are doing it.

Alex Ferrari 59:42
And again, if we've learned anything, my space that's

Christopher Holland 59:46
Yeah, my space. I'm pretty sure I still have a MySpace account. Tom is still my friend.

Alex Ferrari 59:51
He never let us down.

Christopher Holland 59:55
Right? It's always there. So I was in my top eight.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
It's Jesus just took Way back. There the top eight. Oh my god anyway, Chris, man, thank you so much for being on the show again. And helping us guide us through the treacherous world of film festivals in the COVID landscape and I it is an ever changing world, it'll probably change. And it will change again in in the next week or two. After this thing it's going to change. But But I appreciate you taking the time and stay safe out there.

Christopher Holland 1:00:34
My pleasure, you too.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:36
Want to thank Chris for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Chris. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to get ahold of Chris, head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/428. Thank you again for listening guys. As always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.



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